Sometimes, it isn’t easy to admit you need help, but when your quality of life is at stake, it’s important to take that first step towards understanding obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). If left untreated, OSA can become a serious risk to your health. After being diagnosed with OSA, most people are often prescribed a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) system. It’s time to begin reaping the benefits of CPAP therapy.
With a little patience and a positive attitude, you will find that your CPAP therapy may help in many ways:
- Feeling well-rested and alert
- Renewed energy and desire to participate in events
- Improved memory
- A renewed interest in intimacy
- An improved relationship with your bed partner
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced risk of a heart attack, stroke or diabetes
Basics of a CPAP system
A CPAP system is a noninvasive means of maintaining an open airway while sleeping. A CPAP unit produces filtered, pressurized air that is delivered to a mask through a flexible tube. This pressurized air will create a pneumatic or air splint, which will maintain an open airway while you sleep.
Your physician will determine the optimal pressure needed, and this pressure will be set on your CPAP unit by your home healthcare supplier.
There are a number of different styles of CPAP masks available, including:
- Nasal masks, which are placed over your nose
- Cannula-style, which are placed in your nostrils
- Full face masks, which cover your mouth and nose
- Dual-airway interfaces, which are minimalist designs that direct air to both your nose and mouth
Your physician (or home healthcare supplier) will help you determine the CPAP mask or interface that will work best for you.
What to expect the first week or two
Most users will tell you that sleeping with a CPAP system takes a brief period of adjustment – typically just a week or two. The good news is that the overwhelming majority of these individuals will also admit they couldn’t imagine ever sleeping again without their devices. They feel so much better!
With such consistently positive results, it’s no wonder why CPAP therapy has become the most popular and successful treatment for OSA.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment is overcoming the initial concern about your bed partner’s reaction to wearing the mask. You’ll be pleased to know that recent studies show that CPAP therapy actually improves the quality of life for couples. Bed partners of CPAP system users have also been found to sleep better, and feel more rested and alert.
When using your CPAP unit for the first time, you will most likely feel some discomfort from the flow of air. In addition, the mask or interface may take some time to get used to. This is perfectly normal, and you will become more comfortable the longer you use the system.
One of the more subtle experiences, even after a period of acclimation, can be nasal congestion when using CPAP therapy. This isn’t a concern. Your doctor may recommend a humidifier for your CPAP unit or a nasal spray if the problem persists.
To help you quickly work through any issue you may have during the adjustment period, consider gradually easing yourself into therapy:
- Practice breathing through your mask while connected to the CPAP unit as you watch TV, read or surf the Internet
- Once this becomes second nature to you, try using your CPAP system and mask while you nap
- Next, try using your system during the first three to four hours of nighttime sleep; from then on, you should have great success sleeping throughout the night while wearing your mask
You can do it!
Remember, virtually anyone can get through this period of adjustment with a little patience and a positive attitude. This is something you can do! If you’re not satisfied with the progress you’re making, then please consult your doctor or clinician about other strategies that might be available to you, including relaxation exercises.
In addition, local support groups sponsored by the American Sleep Apnea Association give you the opportunity to learn more and speak with others who have sleep apnea, and have succeeded with CPAP therapy. For more information visit www.sleepapnea.org or the user message boards at www.CPAPtalk.com.